Who or what made you want to become an illustrator?
I've always had a passion for illustrating, ever since I was a child at school. In particular, I've always loved creating my own characters but had never really had the inspiration to write my own stories until recently. Children give me an endless array of ideas to work on. Their experiences are so wonderful to witness. I can't help but be inspired by their joy.
Where do you currently live and where did you grow up?
I grew up in a village in the Midlands in the UK called Stonnall, close to Lichfield. I now live in Quorn, near Loughborough. Another village with its own unique character. I think village life is very different to big cities. There are always interesting characters around, with some eccentrics in the mix. There's something very British about it, I'm sure my sense of humour has been shaped by living in rural villages.
Was creativity part of your childhood?
Always. I was always doodling or creating something. My parents were always very supportive and my father is a keen painter. I definitely got my creativity from him, my mother can't draw anything! My books were always covered with drawings and crazy characters that I'd come up with. I loved creating unusual aliens or monsters doing weird things. Animators like Terry Gilliam and cartoonists like Quentin Blake we're huge inspirations. Loved their sense of humour. Quirky but appealing.
Who or what have been some of your major artistic influences?
I've always loved Quentin Blake, he's a master at bringing life to great characters. The pairing with Roald Dahl was inspired, he is synonymous with the stories and rightly so. His illustrations are so vivid and full of character.
More recently I think Axel Sheffler has been a great influence. His illustrataions of Julia Donaldson's stories are so good. They are so memorable and have a very cute quality which is so important in children's books. Their combined work is fantastic.
Which books from your own childhood really stand out?
I read a lot when I was younger. The Narnia Chronicles were a particular favourite. The stories themselves were appealling to a kid growing up, filled with magical and mythical creatures in a not-too-distand land. The illustrations that came with the books helped to bring the scenes to life and fuel the imagination. I think that is what great illustrations do, they help trigger a wider view of teh story and helps bring colour to the words. Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake did something very similar.
Do you have a favourite picture book or recall one of the first picture books you saw?
I have always loved Asterix. I think Uderzo and Goscinny created this wonderful world of magical characters in a real setting. The stories were so imaginative and funny! I loved all of their books, and always waited impatiently for the next one. I recommend any illustrating artist to read them, they are fantastic.
What piece of software or hardware could you not live without and why?
Right now it's my Ipad Pro, with Apple Pencil and Procreate as the software. It's just so handy and portable, and you can edit as you go. Much as I like using conventional pencils and pens, you cannot make a mistake. With the Ipad I can literally start drawing anywhere, which I tend to do! The trick is to keep experimenting
What is your favourite medium to work with and why?
I'm a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to sketching and drawing. I like pencil drawings on paper, overlaid with ink outlines. I think Raymond Briggs is the master at this. His illustrations were so brilliant, using great techniques with pencil. I don't claim to be anywhere close to that brilliance, but it's a medium I like. The Snowman is an absolute classic example of this. It's beautiful in its simplicity but so clever, and very difficult to pull off
Talk us through the process of creating one of your latest illustrations or books.
I start with the written story first. I tend to have a creative burst on the writing side which tends to stem from a very simple idea. Once I have a working draft of the story I can begin to sketch out the main characters. I tend to do some rough sketches to get the mannerisms and expressions right first. I think the look of the characters can help tell the story, particularly in their facial expressions. I'll then begin to develop a storyboard to work off before developing the individual ilustrations. I tend to work on the scenes in order so that the drawings can flow from the story. I find that helps to fill in any potential gaps. I tend to sketch the story, then overlay the outlines in ink before adding colour. It doesn't always work that way, particulalry if I get stuck on an aiumage or scene. In that case, I'll just leave it and come back when I've got an idea that i think will work best.
It's quite a slow, methodical process. But I find it very relaxing
What is your favourite children’s book and why?
I'd say Asterix in Britain was a firm favourite, with Fungus The Bogeyman a close second. They are so well written as well and illustrated, with a fantastic sense of humour. They both tap in to a really appealling comedy style which is both visual and uses great wordplay. I read them over and over again as a child, and still refer back to them.
Where do you get the ideas for your characters?
They all stem from my children and my surroundings. The main characters are either toys or pets that are in the extended family, plus some more that help flesh out the stories. I find comedy in putting every day characters in unusual situations. That drives the creative process.
Which 4 words would you use to describe your illustration portfolio?
Outline your dream project.
Working on an animated verison of the books I work on. I'd love to see them come to life on the big or small screen. I feel it is possible, there are enough stories to develop the characters and to have a serial approach to the world in which they live. That would be a dream come true
What advice would you offer someone just starting out as a children’s illustrator?
Go for it. Practice with your own styles and develop something that you feel comfortable with. Make your style your own. There are plenty of great courses out there for budding artists, but use them to understand the foundations of building great illustrations. Then blossom with your own approach. Courses can only do so much, your imagination and creativity will do the rest
Are you an author/illustrator?
I'm both. I enjoy the fact that I am the creative force behind the stories. As I write I am visualising the illustrations that accompany the dialogue, so it isn't too difficult to pull the visuals together. That isn't to say that another illustrator couldn't do a better job with my stories, I'm sure they probably could, but I want to bring teh characters and stories to life myself. Maybe it's because I've probably considered myself an illustrator first and foremost. It is only recently that I have come up with stories that I think are strong enough to develop in to picture books. Having come up with a set of characters that work, I'm finding it easier to develop multiple story strands. It's exciting to have a series of ideas to work with that follow a common theme.
What’s the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?
'Write and draw what interests you'. I think it comes across in your work if you have some kind of interest or passion in the topic area. The ideas will flow more easily, and inspiration will come to you. Trying to visualise something that you have no experience or interest in is going to make things te times more difficult.
What was your last ‘lightbulb moment’?
I stumbled across a joke moustache just lying on the pavement. I showed my daughter and she was concerned that someone had lost it. That formed the basis of my latest book 'Where's Grandad's Moustache?'. The idea for a child believeing that someone who had had a shave had lost their moustache was a germ of an idea that just grew and grew. Who knows whether it will be a book that appeals, but it certainly made me smile.
What makes a good children’s book?
A good story with relatable but magical elements. Children respond to visual clues and unusual situations that they have familiarity with. For example, animal characters that speak are always appealling because there is a natural curiosity there that can be tapped in to. Similarly, children's imaginations are not shackled by reality so magical elements are more easily embraced and accepted. This gives an amazing scope for writer's and illustrators to work with. Nothing is really impossible in a child's mind, which is an extremely liberating starting point to work from
When you are not drawing, how do you like to relax?
I'm an active person, so I tend to do exercise of some description. I find going for a run or a bike ride is great for freeing the mind and de-cluttering your thought processes. Other than that, I like travelling and lying on a beach with a good book. Nothing better than some sun to regenerate and relax
How important is it for you to be part of a creative community of people?
Really important. I am always stunned by the amazing creativity of fellow artists. They push you to develop and grow as an artist. I think it is perfectly normal to look at someone else's work with awe and wonder. Whether it's a different style or different sense of humour. Everyone can learn from everybody else. This is the beauty of art, it is always evolving and we are unique in our approaches. I would love to develop new styles and techniques. You never stop learning.
What are some of your favourite subjects to draw?
Animals, definitely. I like conveying emotion through the eyes of a dog, cat or another type of animal. Pets are always fun because they are relatable. Everybody knows a grumpy cat or a smelly dog. These are comical characters in their own right that bring a lightheartedness to any situation. When I make myself smile with an animal drawing I know I'm on the right track
Animals feature heavily in children’s books – do you have a pet?
I think you can see that Mia the cat is a regular character in the books. She is our house cat and main pet. She's a bit eccentric now as she's fifteen years old. I've tried to reflect that in the stories. She is the mood barometer of the stories.
I've added in additional animals as I've expanded the series. Ed the dog appears in my lastest book and gives a good additional dimension to the illustrations, plus some comedy tension with Mia the Cat!